Here we are in the throes of winter. Our motorcycles are stored under blankets with the Battery Tender hooked up or in the middle of various service projects with parts laying all over the garage floor and all we want to do is ride. Playing motorcycle video games works OK for about an hour. We go outside to the garage, sit on the bike and hit the starter button or stab the kickstarter just to make sure the Battery Tender is actually keeping the battery up…in reality we just want to feel and hear our best friend. As we look outside to the snow and ice all we can do is sigh, put the thirty third coat of polish on the bike, check the tyres and sigh again.
Back inside the house we pull out all the cool catalogs…Riders Warehouse, Whitehorse Press ,Dennis Kirk…heck, we even start looking at the JC Whitney catalog with lust in our hearts, fortunately, the wife has already taken away your credit card. We’ve watched every motorcycle movie we have and have even rented some that really suck. Anything to keep in touch with riding our motorcycles. And then the true motorcyclist in us all comes out, dreams of our first road trip…to AAA, we need maps!!!
Once we get home from AAA the sickness sets in. We start jabbering about places like The Royal Gorge, Durango, Rock Springs, Big Bend, The Snake River. We remember camping on Sonora Pass, breakfast at Betty’s Breakfast Nook in Quincy, waking up in the sleaziest motel in Alberta Canada then the next morning waking up in the nicest hotel in Montana. We talk about roads like the Chief Joseph Scenic Byway, the Going To The Sun road, The Beartooth pass, Ebbet’s Pass, the Million Dollar Highway and the thirteen hours we spent on I40 just to get across one half of Texas. When we look up from the maps we realize that we’re talking to ourselves, our loved ones left the room hours ago and our supper is now cold.
After taking a short break, to eat our cold supper, it’s back to the maps. This time to plan. We have maps that cover three or five states, we have individual state maps and then we have county maps. Four colors of highlighters are at your side as well as your magnifying glass. We start by thinking of where do we have friends we can stay or ride with? Then we start looking for the longest, most interesting way to get there…ten hours on the interstate is no match for two days of two lane roads and local cafe’s.
After the basics we’re now into “where haven’t I been before?” The maps are getting more detailed, we make a few phone calls to the friends we’ve highlighted on the map…knowing that they are going through the same sickness…we talk about roads, weather, food and start the plan to meet up in Durango. At this point our family, loved ones and co-workers have given up on us. They see the look in our eye’s, the sitting at the dinner table or our desk pretending that we are holding the handlebars of our motorcycle and humming that one song that sticks with us for days on the road.
The final stages of the ‘Where’s Waldo’ season are sad. Our motorcycles have gained ten pounds in ‘wax weight’, we have gained ten pounds in ‘winter weight’ and we are alienated from the rest of the world.The only one’s that still love us are AAA (actually they are getting pretty tired of us too…), our motorcycle and the dog. I wonder if there is a twelve step program for winter bound motorcyclists?
Riding a motorcycle has been one of the true joys of my life for over forty years. Old bikes, new bikes, weird bikes, bikes I should never have bought and bikes I wish I still had. Making them rideable…keeping them rideable, fixing what a previous owner had done to the bike and modifying a few myself. Traveling, commuting, racing…it didn’t matter, I was riding. I feel more comfortable on a motorcycle than I do in a car and more comfortable wearing a helmet than a seatbelt.
We all start wearing a helmet because we’re told it’s safe, the smart thing to do and, nowadays, it’s the law in most states here in America. At some time in our motorcycle life, some of us choose to let the wind blow through our hair and some of us decide that ‘helmet hair’ is a good style. I have worn a helmet all my motorcycling life, except once. That once landed me in the emergency room, but that is another story. This story is about what you do inside your helmet. What I call ‘helmet time’.
When you put on your helmet to go for a ride, your brain changes gears. If you are racing it’s pure focus…the start, braking points, your fellow racers…”where can I pass that guy”…or, “how do I keep this other guy from passing me?” and of course, “that trophy is going to look really good in my garage”. Then in my case, racing vintage motorcycles…”come on baby, hang in there, only 3 more laps, don’t fail me now…”. It’s hard to cross yourself while going through Turn 8 at Willow Springs.
When you put on your helmet for the ride to work your focus is a bit divided. You are thinking about your job…”I have to meet my quota today, I hope Woof’s Pet Shop buys a lot of dog food” or…”That new secretary is hot, I wonder if she likes motorcycles?” or,” I’m late, good thing I’m on a motorcycle”.
This is where your focus becomes divided, on top of all the work thoughts, you have to pay attention to riding. Commuting on a motorcycle is a high stress affair here in Southern California. Crowded freeways, clogged surface streets, drivers spending more time on their cell phone than actually watching where they are going…the stresses go on and on. Good thing you have your helmet on.
When you put your helmet on for a ‘ride’, it’s a totally different feeling. Getting together with friends for the “Sunday Ride’ to a favorite breakfast or lunch spot, a solo ride on a road you know like the back of your hand or the trip you have been planning since winter…going for a ‘ride’ is a whole different mindset. And inside your helmet is where that mindset takes over. Yes, we still have to pay attention to the road, other drivers and of course…the law(?)…”good afternoon officer…I was going how fast?”…
Inside your helmet on a ride you have time to get away from work, the ‘honey do’ list, pretty much anything you don’t want to think about. It’s just you, your motorcycle and the road. Sometimes you do think about work but the first mountain road corner you screw up, work goes right out of your helmet and you’re back to riding.
I once posed the question on our motoworld podcast, www.themotoworld.com “what goes on inside your helmet when you’re riding”? The answers that I got were great fun to read. From poems, to song lyrics, modifications you want to make to your bike…what do I want for breakfast?…I wonder if the new secretary at work would go out with me? (nah)…how come Kelly is faster than me today? We all use ‘helmet time’ differently. In your helmet you can be a great singer…because no one can hear you; you can be a stand up comedian…telling yourself the same bad jokes over and over again. Inside your helmet you can be a world traveler seeing things you’ve never seen before or be a champion racer…don’t get carried away on that last one.
For most though, ‘helmet time’ is much more than that. I have friends that will go for a ride specifically to clear out personal problems, another sorts out the junk, puts issues to rest and resets the ‘personal power’ button. My friend Rob of the Bikers Church in Canada creates sermons while he rides…he doesn’t really count in ‘helmet time’ because he doesn’t often wear one, but we love him anyway.
On long trips however, ‘helmet time’ takes on more meaning. The first day starts with a combination of giddiness and anticipation. “Alright, I’m outta here…bye honey”…unless…’honey’ is part of the trip then it’s “Alright, WE’RE outta here…bye doggies!” Down the driveway onto the road and put yard work in the rear view mirror.
The second day into a four day ride your helmet time starts getting serious. You go back over the things you started thinking about yesterday and you come up with new thoughts. You sing the same song over and over again, you know, the one you don’t know all the words to and you tell yourself a few jokes trying to remember the punchline. And it’s not even lunchtime.
After lunch in a small town at the local diner (no fast food on this trip), the reflection period starts. In between picture taking stops and hustling along twisty roads you start thinking about your life. What have I done, what do I want to do and I hope there is a good Italian restaurant near the hotel.
Day three of ‘helmet time’ is the best. You’ve had two good days of riding, you and your bike are flowing together smoothly and more importantly you and your helmet are one. The thoughts of the universe are being channeled right to you through your Arai. You’ve already spent a day on your own life now it’s time to start thinking bigger thoughts, you know like whirrled peas, I mean world peace, yeah that’s it. On my last ride I solved homelessness over the Tioga Pass, world hunger over the Sonora Pass, I cured cancer over Ebbets Pass and came up with a remedy for the common cold on Monitor pass. It was a great day.
Day four is heading home. Your fanny is tired, your brain is tired trying to remember all the grand solutions you came up with yesterday and the doggies you left four days ago are probably starting to get hungry. But it’s also the time that you start putting all those hours of helmet time into perspective and into order. The cure for cancer and world hunger, well, those may have to wait a while. But, if you have done this right, by now you have figured a good cure for your own life, more ‘helmet time’.
Over my years and thousands of miles of riding, I have made friends all across the U.S, Canada and India too. Most of them have a ‘riding season’ and that season is all too short. This time of year I get e-mails from the friends bemoaning their weather and wanting to come visit. I wish they would.
One of my favorite loops starts not too far north of Los Angeles up near Castaic Lake. Starting in the LA area head north on Interstate 5…a few miles past Magic Mountain amusement park will be the turn off for Castaic Lake, Lake Hughes Road. You have a couple of choices here depending on what time of day it is and how hungry you are. A side note here, I am a card carrying member of the ‘Ride to Eat…Eat to Ride Society’ and every
trip has to have good food stops. If it’s breakfast time, Cafe Mike is as good as it gets along this stretch of road. Classic truck stop diner fare and good service. When you get off the freeway, take your first right turn and Mike’s is about 1/4 mile down the road…you won’t be disappointed. However, if you’re not hungry yet and it’s getting closer to lunch time…ride on.
Lake Hughes Road is one of the great unknown roads…well, I guess I just spoiled it. It’s a good fifteen plus miles of smooth flowing turns, blind deceasing radius turns, great scenery and good fun. The road takes you through a beautiful canyon of California chapparral, creeks, campgrounds and church retreats. Oh, and there is a ‘correctional’ facility thrown just for good measure, visiting day is Sunday.
At the end of Lake Hughes road is a ‘T’ intersection and you have a choice. A left turn takes you down to Hwy 138 and the Antelope Valley…if you want to head north it’s a good choice and in spring it will take you down to the California Poppy Reserve. But, if you want an entertaining loop and a good lunch, turn right onto Elizabeth Lake Road.
In Lake Hughes is a fine lunch stop, The Rock Inn (www.historicrockinn.com), a classic place with sports on big screen TV’s, live music occasionally, good food and a fine beer selection. The Rock Inn is also a real Inn…they have rooms upstairs…get your mind out the old Western movie gutter here. It’s a great stop. A side note here…the first date with my now wife was this ride, and it’s also where I proposed to her( well, not on our first date a couple years later)…in the parking lot amidst a bunch of motorcycles, how romantic huh???…she was foolish enough to say yes.
After a good lunch you have a couple of choices, head back the same route, this side of the road can get a little iffy so be careful. Or…you can continue on the loop. If you have decided to continue on ‘the loop’ good for you, you’re going to love it. Continue east on Elizabeth Lake Road (N2 ) for a few miles…5 or 6 maybe, to the turn off for Green Valley / San Francisquito Canyon Road. About a mile down will be the left turn for Bouquet Canyon Road. Once on Bouquet Canyon just have fun.The road goes past the Bouquet Reservoir, into the canyon with creeks, California oak trees, houses perched up on the hillsides and rock walls that would hurt if you’re not paying attention to your riding. There is generally not much traffic but people do live in this canyon so you have to keep an eye out for drivers coming out of nowhere. A popular stopping point part way down the canyon is The Big Oaks. Good pizza, cold beverages and on Sundays a good crowd of motorcyclists up from the local area. Mostly the cruiser group with a few sportbikes here and there. It’s well worth the stop, just to enjoy the canyon.
Twelve miles or so down Bouquet Canyon Rd. is the turn off to Vasquez Canyon Rd., hang a left. Three and a half fun miles brings you to Soledad Canyon Rd, a right turn will take you over to Hwy 14 and from there you can head back to wherever you started from easily.
There are many more fun roads in this area and how many of them you would like to ride depends on how much time you have and how far your fanny will go. If you would like to know about more about the roads in this area, grab yourself a Los Angeles and vicinity map from your local AAA office or feel free to e-mail me, firstname.lastname@example.org
This is a great way to spend a morning and afternoon with your motorcycle. My wish for you all is that the New Year brings you all that you want and mostly a lot of wonderful rides. Thank you for sharing this one with me.